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A revolution in the government's approach to public services has been signalled by the chief secretary, Stephen Bye...
A revolution in the government's approach to public services has been signalled by the chief secretary, Stephen Byers, with the publication of a white paper on Public Service Agreements (PSAs). For the first time, the government is setting out its strategic objectives for the long term in each area of government and targets for the progress it aims to make during the rest of this Parliament and beyond.

The agreements require departments to meet over 500 clear, demanding targets. Improvements in efficiency will release over£8 billion per year by 2001-02 in savings to re-direct into front-line services - amounting to about£16 billion in total over the three years from 1999-00. Wherever possible, performance targets are SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed.

Commenting, Stephen Byers said,

'Our manifesto committed us to five key pledges - on class sizes, young offenders, waiting lists, getting young people back to work, and tax - on which we said we will stand to be judged. Now we are setting out what the public can expect from across the full range of public services.

'For too long people have focused on how much money is spent on public services. It is now time to move on and consider the more important issue - how the money is spent and what people get in return for their money.

'The old days of throwing money at a problem and hoping that it goes away have gone. So has the slavish adherence to the belief that market forces can deliver the public services that people want.

'Our approach is to ensure that the extra investment we are putting into public services achieves real improvements, that standards

will be raised and the quality of services enhanced.

'By setting measurable targets backed up by annual reports we shall be ensuring that the public knows exactly what progress we are making to achieve these ambitious and challenging targets.'

Over 350 new performance targets are set out in 28 separate PSAs covering each government department. Moreover, as part of the new 'joined up' approach to the way Government tackles problems where

departments need to work more closely together, there are also three cross-departmental PSAs setting out a strategic approach to the Criminal Justice System, Illegal Drugs and help for families with young children through the Sure Start programme.

The new performance targets are set in terms of improvements in services or in the results those services are designed to achieve. For example:

- a reduction in death rate from heart disease and stroke-related illness amongst people under 65 of 33% by 2010;

-to make 189,000 asylum decisions in total over the next three years compared with 33,700 in 1998-99;

-achieving a reduction in the long-run rate of the growth of crime, which has been growing on average by 5% a year since the 1920s;

-reducing the backlog of council house repairs by at least 250,000 with over 1.5 million council houses benefiting from new investment by 2002;

-50% of 16 year olds to achieve 5 or more GCSE's at grades A-C by 2002.

The PSAs also set out an ambitious programme for the modernisation and reform of government, with 175 targets for increasing the efficiency of public services so that this money can be reinvested in the services the public receive. In total over£8 billion per year will be saved and redirected to front line services by 2001-02. For example, the NHS has a target for saving #1 billion a year and some£70 million year is being released through lower unit costs in Further and Higher Education. The Treasury has agreed that every pound saved can be used for other service priorities. To achieve these improvements, departments have been asked to look specifically at fraud, procurement and sickness absence.


1. The background to the Public Service Agreements was set out in Chapter 4 of the Comprehensive Spending White Paper (Cm 4011) published on 14 July 1998.

2. The Public Services Agreements are published today in a white paper entitled 'Public Services for the Future: Modernisation, Reform, Accountability'(Cm 4181), available from HMSO bookshops priced£28.

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